Andrew Moyer, Chief of Staff, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, recently explored the Chicago & Beyond region by bike during a two-day, 100 mile ride. Read about his Off-Road Illinois adventure.
I like to bike. I grew up in Wisconsin taking family rides along scenic paths, and loving every minute of it. When I moved to Washington, DC, I discovered a network of trails that provided infinite ways to see the sights of the nation’s Capital. In 2011, I moved to Illinois and discovered Chicago’s Lakefront Trail. Now, I would argue that the Lakefront Trail is one of the most scenic city trails in the United States, changing from the hustle and bustle of Navy Pier and the Oak Street to Belmont corridor to the solitude and sweeping city views from Promontory Point. However, I didn’t explore much beyond my rides back and forth along Lake Michigan, until I recently found out how much I was missing!
Biking through Downtown Elgin
Historic photo of Anderson's Candy Shop
The Lost Valley Visitors Center in McHenry is a great place to stop for information about the area
The Fox River Trail meanders through quaint river towns
Glacial Park is a a jewel of the McHenry County Conservation District
Anderson's Candy Shop has been in business for almost 100 years
The Fabyan Windmill in Geneva along the Fox River Trail
The beautiful Prairie Path in the Chicago & Beyond region offers cyclists mile after mile of natural terrain
In September, I had the opportunity to expand my Illinois biking horizons in Kane and McHenry Counties, experiencing first-hand how many incredible biking options exist right in my own back yard. I started out on the Fox River Trail, a fantastic mostly paved trail along the Fox River in Chicago’s Northwest Suburbs. My guide for the day was Tony Bless (his wife, Kim, is the director of the Elgin Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and fantastic advocate for the region). We started our journey in downtown Elgin and headed south along the eastern bank of the river.
Other than a few sections on city streets, the paved path immersed us in the tranquil beauty of so many parks and forest preserves that I lost count. The Festival Park in Elgin, Fox River Bluff Forest Preserve in South Elgin and Norris Woods Nature Preserve are only a few of the highlights. Along the way, I was struck by how many other activities and experiences we could take advantage of along the trail, including several disk golf courses, island parks, playgrounds, kayak/canoe put-ins and a manmade whitewater course. Though it was only my first ride along the trail, it was immediately clear that communities along the Fox River have made a commitment to integrating the trail into their infrastructure planning with easy access and several trail specific bridges along the way.
A little over 20 miles later we arrived in Aurora, had a quick snack and turned around for the return trip. The ride back was just as nice, but with a headwind that made us work a bit harder. Passing the Fabyan Windmill in Geneva should have tipped us off to the possibility of wind along the river!
Back in Elgin, Tony and I rejoined Kim and Jen Hoelzle, Illinois’ Tourism Director, to celebrate a beautiful day of biking with a great meal at Buckinghams Steakhouse located in the Grand Victoria Casino in downtown Elgin.
On our second day, I woke up a little sore, but ready for another great day in the saddle in McHenry County this time. I was lucky to be joined by McHenry County Convention and Visitors Bureau board member Josh Arnow and Randy Springer, both from The Bike Haven, a local bike shop in McHenry. I traded in my road bike for a mountain bike and we set out north for the crushed gravel of the Prairie Path.
Our first stop was Anderson’s Candy Shop in Richmond. Anderson’s has been in business for almost 100 years and you can see why when you try their chocolate! After Richmond, the Prairie Path took us north up to the Wisconsin border, and then west to Hebron, home of the Green Giants and their giant basketball water tower. Hebron won the 1952 Illinois High School Boys Basketball Championship – the smallest school to ever win the state championship and the first live telecast of a high school sporting event in Illinois…(and dare I say the real Hoosiers?!).
From Hebron we continued on to Royal Oak Farm Orchard. Royal Oak not only has 29 different varieties of apples to pick, but they also have a petting zoo, campfire circles, apple tree maze and incredible apple-inspired food. I chose a fantastic turkey dinner meal for lunch, but I really wish I didn’t have to bike back right after eating! I wanted to curl up under one of the apple trees and sleep off my hearty meal. Alas, we had no choice but to leave apple nirvana and get back on our bikes. The ride back may have been a little bit slower, but just as beautiful. We rode through Glacial Park, a jewel of the McHenry County Conservation District, and stopped at the Lost Valley Visitor Center .This is a place I definitely will be coming back to for the kayaking or cross-country skiing.
Once we returned to Bike Haven, we made a quick switch back to road bikes and tried to work the rest of our lunch off with a quick ride down to Crystal Lake along a paved portion of the Prairie Path. A friendly note, be ready for the hills in Sternes Woods Park! If you haven’t been to Crystal Lake, it’s the perfect destination for a quick day trip or weekend getaway. The downtown area is easily accessible from the Metra line that drops off right in the middle of town at Depot Park, which is surrounded by a lively small town center including some fun shops, good food and a performing arts center.
After 100 miles in two days I can say I enjoyed my journey fully and, though a little sore, was extremely impressed by the quality of the trails in this part of Illinois. I’m itching to get back on the bike to discover even more of this beautiful state. And, a new feature at EnjoyIllinois.com can help me do just that. The new Off-Road Illinois website feature can help you plan your journey and uncover all there is to experience on an Illinois bike excursion. You can also use the site to plan incredible hiking and kayaking experience, just to name a few. Be sure to check it out before your next excursion at OffRoadIllinois.com.
Remember, you’re never lost when you’re on a bike! So what are you waiting for, get out and enjoy all the trails and miles Illinois has to offer and make magnificent stuff happen (#ILMagStuff).
– Andrew Moyer, Chief of Staff, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
Want to follow in Andrew’s footsteps? Travel the below map!